Monday, October 11, 2010

A Nation Of Hypocrites

Gregory Rodriguez has a provocative column in the Los Angeles Times today. Here's the lede:

If Meg Whitman loses the gubernatorial race because her actions didn't jive with her words on illegal immigration, she could become a sacrificial lamb for the rest of us. Her sin is our sin. Because where illegal immigration is concerned, we are all hypocrites. [Emphasis added]

That's pretty strong, but in a sense he is correct. We all benefit from the low-skill, low paying work these undocumented workers perform. From housekeepers to gardeners, and farm workers to dishwashers, the paperless workers to the jobs that Americans don't/won't do and contribute to the economy in multiple ways.

Here are some of the statistics which Rodriguez cites in his argument:

It should be no surprise that illegal immigration is one of the primary means by which the U.S. economy gains access to low-skilled, low-cost labor. As the share of low-skilled native-born Americans falls — in 1960 half of U.S.-born working-age adults had not completed high school, compared with 8% today — employers have become ever more dependent on illegal immigration as a steady source of cheap labor.

Some sectors are more dependent than others. According to a 2009 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, 40% of the nation's brickmasons, 37% of drywall installers, 28% of dishwashers, 27% of maids and housekeepers, and 21% of parking-lot attendants are undocumented. In California, those percentages are likely to be higher. A 2006 survey by the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that a majority of California's farmworkers have no papers.

Then why the outcry against the illegals? Well, they're here illegally. They depress wages. They take up space in our emergency rooms. They have babies here, thereby increasing the likelihood that they won't be deported. They get a free ride while the rest of us are busting our butts just trying to stay even. And those are just a few of the less inflammatory reasons so many Americans object to the undocumented workers among us.

The problem is that we have all these low skilled jobs and no rational means by which to fill them. The quota of job visas is fixed at 150,000, which, even if that quota involved only low skilled jobs (and not the high skilled technical jobs that employers use world-wide searches for filling), is simply not reasonable in light of the demand for the work.

The answer to the dilemma is admittedly a complex and difficult one, but no one is willing to face the problem head on, especially politicians who have both voters and big business donors to please. Until the nation and its leaders do face the problem and at least try to fix what is clearly broken, we will continue to have nannygates and crudely drafted laws and employer raids.

But hey! We have these lovely strawberries and healthy broccoli at bargain prices, so it's all good.



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